Friday, 30 October 2009

Wishing all an horrific Hallowe'en

Doing anything? I'm off to a colleague's party, if I can concoct a decent costume. It's a terrible yankee concoction, but my chums are all literate chaps and chapesses, so we'll be celebrating Samhain, the original Irish festival from which the new thing springs. Light a candle for the departed and put it in your western window, and construct a Brazen Head (though Cowper Powys's book of the same name isn't really related, though it is a monolithic masterpiece).

Wet music for Cynical Ben

I have a soft spot for music with emotional intelligence and maturity, just as much as I love teen punk lo-fi. Some of it would make Ben stamp on children's feet just to rebalance the emotions.

Amongst my secret pleasures are 10,000 Maniacs and the solo work of their former lead singer, Natalie Merchant.

Headlines to gladden the heart

'Blair Hopes for EU Presidency Sinking Fast'.

Good. He'd be bad for Britain and bad for Europe. Asserting that a UK citizen would be automatically good for the UK is imperialistic and chauvinistic.

Meanwhile, if you think you're an elf, this is the place to go: No, really. Thanks to Steve.

Friday conundrum again

Courtesy of Emma:
Using ten words or fewer, how would you change the world?

I offer you this:
Got a hairstyle? Then step this way into my camp.
Voting Tory? Take this pill, it'll all be over soon.
Try reading books. You'll soon be a better person.
The Daily Mail was closed and its editor shot today.
Leave the car at home. Walk to work. Plant trees.

Idlewild leave me itching

…for more, obviously. They also left me itching in a very literal sense. What is it with ageing indie fans? Are they immune to the charms of hygiene? Despite their infestations, they all had girlfriends/boyfriends too. Grrrr. Revolting, isn't it? I got home and nearly burned all my clothes before spending an hour in the bath frantically scrubbing away in case the critters survived the journey from Birmingham. The whole of Manchester's infested too: I returned from the Blog Awards with lots of bites on the ankles. I blame Fleet Foxes: they repopularised beards in the indie fraternity, and that leads to trampiness (c.f. Super Furry Animals).

Anyway, apart from that, it was a great evening. We had a fine meal at the small, older branch of Café Soya, Birmingham's finest Vietnamese restaurant, a couple of lovely ales at the Victoria then off to the new Academy (good room, unpleasant and extortionately priced beer). Downstairs, the revolting Calvin Harris attracted crowds off young attention-seekers, while upstairs we more sober and (mostly older) types congregated for some earnest rock.

Idlewild were, plainly speaking, magnificent, though they too have succumbed to the 'beard = credible' disease. The new album is a return to their early-REM fuzzy folk-rock template, but shorn of the extra performers featured on the record, they just plain rocked, striding the small stage as though they were on at Glastonbury. What really impresses me is that their songs are emotionally intelligent and literate without pretension, which is a really difficult trick to pull off. The only problem with a six-album band is that so many great tracks are excluded. Three thumbs up.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

No more reading, time to ROCK!

This is what I have to look forward to tonight, though they have since developed interesting folk links:


Apparently, 'deltiology' is a major effect of the media, according to the first essay I marked. I've got a fairly large vocabulary, and I had to look this up. It's the hobby of postcard collecting. The little genius may have meant 'ideology' - not much better, but it's the closest word I can think of which might have the vaguest relationship to the subject at hand…

Hail shining morn…

Good morning all. I'm still feeling ill, but not so grumpy. I've got a full day's marking ahead of me, but there's Idlewild in Birmingham tonight. They started off as generic postpunk/indie, then got gradually more interesting in the way that few bands now have the chance: if the first LP isn't a hit, you get dropped.

Which is surprising really, as my School held a kind of Nuremburg rally last night. I didn't attend - I sat in the other half of the canteen, grumpily masticating 'food' and reading the new Iain Banks (average, at best). Nevertheless, I could hear a gospel choir (sensitive cultural choice for a very culturally mixed institution) - which was appropriate, given that prayer is the only option left to us now. Rumour has it that the bigwigs' speeches were written not by our illustrious leaders, but by another much put-upon individual. If that's true, it's both appalling and indicative of the intellectual level of our management. Additionally, those who attended apparently, allegedly, got to watch the limited amounts of booze and food scoffed by the 'special' guests…

First they came for our name ('humanities' has been dropped, rather significantly), then they came for our canapés.

You all know where these quotes originate:
"No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

PR Genius of the week

Courtesy of Feministing:

"This dance itself was a successful event."
--West Contra Costa Unified School District spokesman Marin Trujillo looks on the bright side after the brutal gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside of her high school's homecoming dance.

That would be an ecumenical matter…

In case you missed it, Pope Benedictosaurus has announced that any reactionary, bigoted Anglican vicars who are fed up of women tidying up the cloisters and thinking they're priests, can join the Catholic church, no questions asked.

Old Benedict is an utter throwback, determined to drag Catholicism back to the 14th century, despite the groundswell of opinion amongst younger clerics and theologians that looks forward to the eighteenth, at least. Many of the Catholic priests aren't going to be overly impressed by a load of johnny-come-latelies turning up, without really changing their beliefs, and bringing their wives with them - perhaps the Catholics who want to get married should convert to Anglicanism, marry, then come back…

It's not a friendly act, 'unsettling' a whole bunch of a rival's employees, like a football manager. Though it might help the Anglicans by allowing them to offload their worst elements.

I support the postal strike, but it's good to receive parcels…

I've ordered a lot of books and music recently, and they're starting to trickle through (today: new trousers, Julie Fowlis's Uam and Nancy Elizabeth's Battle and Victory. Yesterday I received James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore's Climate Cover-up: the crusade to deny global warming.

What can I say other than this is a shockingly important book? Like many of you, probably, I vaguely knew that various corporate interests were rigging the 'debate' through front groups, astroturfing and lobbying. What Hoggan and Littlemore have done is fill in the speculation with solid, old-fashioned detective work. They name names, follow the money and delve into the darker arts of corporate image management. It's essential for environmentalists, political scientist and students of the media because it exposes, in detail, the machinations of élites with no interest in a) reality, b) democracy and mostly shockingly, c) actual science.

It isn't a rant: it's a careful dissection of an organised campaign of disinformation which has poisoned the public sphere. You need to read it.

It's OK, I'm not grumpy any more

Well, apparently the antidote to feeling miserably ill is to go to a union negotiating committee. I don't feel physically better, but my spirits have lightened considerably. We've got a clear strategy and a solid plan of action which will discomfit the idiots who claim to manage us.

Meanwhile, here's some of the music I'll be hearing next month: one of the recitatives from Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony and an extract from Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius

My so-called life

I wasn't grumpy last night. I went to the pub with colleagues and (after the compulsory moan about the Institution), we talked books, particularly children's books, as they'd been teaching Pullman that evening. Mark and I have cooked up a plan for some papers on Edwardian children's literature (basically: it's all very weird) and I tried out my Anne of Green Gables paper idea on him - he approves. Obviously I'm not going to rehearse my arguments here, but I'm tempted to call it 'Beating the Red-Headed Stepchild: Canada, race and colonialism in Anne of Green Gables'. Obviously (to me, anyway), the e marks Anne's Kristevan excess. No, really, that's what I do for my job. For now, anyway.

Most of this came to me while I was drunkenly ironing at midnight, and it's all scrawled on the back of a bookshop receipt. Rock and roll!


Morning all. I'm feeling grumpy. I don't feel very well, didn't sleep and even skipped swimming. I'm too rough to go fencing tonight, and the alternative is ghastly: a supposedly compulsory formal opening of the new School in which we find ourselves.

Frankly, being forced to attend this sticks in my craw: they removed 'humanities' from the school's name, despite this covering all the biggest subjects, and they've randomly and incompetently screwed up the teaching process, the curriculum and the structure (at least in my legally non-binding and personal opinion). To watch the bigwigs quaff wine while grinning like a cat that's brought home a dead bird will be revolting. That bird was agile and beautiful before management chewed it up - I'm damned if I'll smile while they vomit forth a load of obsolete management bollocks about the bright future (nobody mention the redundancies, recession, incoming Tory government, intellectual shortcomings of management etc.).

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

I'm Vole. This is what I do.

Only, er… not quite as well. But I mention fencing sometimes without ever communicating how wonderful it is: a battle of wits and wills, against your own weaknesses and sometimes reaching the sublime. Nothing beats the feeling of a lightning fast move which outpaces and outfoxes a respected opponent to make the winning hit in the last second. Or so I'm told - I'm usually the guy on the other end.

Join a club here (UK), here (Ireland), here (US), ici (la France), hier (Deutschland), over here mate (Australia) and Kiwis, rattle your dags!

Scientologists stung

The French, not keen on cults (ask the Cathars), have convicted the Scientologists of organised fraud! The organisation hasn't been closed down, but it has had to reform. In other news, Hollywood bloke Paul Haggis (made Crash, though I prefer his work on Due South) has resigned, having realised (after a couple of decades) that Scientology isn't very nice.

Yet more culture

I've just received Tove Jansson's novel for adults (not an 'adult novel'), The True Deceiver, and my ticket for The Dream of Gerontius, Elgar's massive oratorio, performed at Birmingham's wonderful Town Hall. Thus inspired, I've just bought a ticket for Symphony Hall's performance of Vaughan Williams' A Sea Symphony. It's a monstrous work, scored for full orchestra and a massive choir, with settings of Walt Whitman's poetry: not avant-garde or atonal but emotionally powerful and with thoughtful, even profound settings of unsettling poems. Cheap tickets for students and young people (though not for me…).

L'Union Européene, c'est moi

George Monbiot has an intriguing line on Blair's government-supported plot to get himself appointed (no elections in the new, more-democratic EU) President of the European Union. George reckons that Blair's guilty of war crimes (unprovoked invasion of Iraq without the justification of self-defence) and won't be prosecuted in the UK, whereas several Eu countries do have laws on their books which would do the job - and he couldn't refuse to visit them if he were EU president.

I've got some sympathy for this, but I'm seriously concerned about a Blair presidency. I listened to a Radio 4 discussion on the matter yesterday, in which both the Tory and Labour guests argued solely about 'the British interest' and were obsessed by the 'patriotic' need to have a UK citizen as president.

This worries me. It suggests that the British are fundamentally incapable of understanding the point of the EU - that large collectives work together for mutual interests, rather than scoring points and engaging in oneupmanship of this petty, nationalistic type.

Which is the Blair problem. As far as I can see, the motorcades Miliband mentioned are his prime motivation. He isn't a democrat (he always seemed to view actual voters and Parliament as an embarrassing roadblock) and he certainly isn't a European. He couldn't manage to get Britain into the Schengen Agreement on open borders, he refused to promote the idea that Britain join the Euro, most shamefully he removed Britain from every form of worker and employment protection he could, and he became the US's messenger boy, openly antagonising our European allies. This man is an enemy of the European ideal.

Why on earth would other nations respect an EU president who, while he ran his own country, blocked European initiatives and openly expressed his contempt for many Europeans? An EU president who, in power, blocked EU decisions at home and abroad! Won't they - and European governments - view him as simply a stooge for US and corporate interests? Could you see him defending and advocating the fair taxation regimes of the Scandinavians, or the employment legislation of the French? I just can't - he'd instigate a race to the bottom, whether we're talking about banking, taxation, employment, military action or the environment.

The arguments for Blair are that he's a 'big beast' - familiar with world leaders and able to knock heads together. It's overplayed. The British always think they're more important on the world stage than they are, rather than embracing a future more like the moral authority of Norway, Denmark or Sweden, comparable countries. The Americans use the UK as cover for unilateral policies. Blair's personal style is arrogant and evasive and his slavish devotion to Bush's illegal wars has closed as many doors to him internationally as it's opened.

The resistance starts here. Let's leave him to his millions and his weirdo religious obsessions. If he wants to represent anyone else, he can stand for election.

Arse? Elbow? All look the same to me

I'm designing a whole new year-long module for next year. Which would be great, except that our lords and masters haven't deigned to mention things like: how many weeks? How many hours per week? Will we meet every week for the whole module even though it's worth only as much as a single semester module?

So I don't know how many texts to choose, what the programme should look like, how and when students' work should be assessed - none of the core decisions. And it's all got to be done by Friday…

Well done, Iceland

All it took was national bankruptcy, but they've done it: McDonald's is quitting the country. The article describes this momentous event as a 'blow', which I don't get. They're leaving because the cost of importing all the 'food' from Germany is prohibitive due to the exchange rate and taxation - but that's just because everything is preprepared and identical rather than just sacks of onions and mince to be made in situ.

In any case, a local chain will replace it, using locally sourced ingredients. Icelanders will still be able to contract heart disease, but the economy will actually benefit from profits staying in the country and workers might even be able to join a union!

Let's make the same happen here!

Monday, 26 October 2009

The oracle speaks

I keep trying to explain to students that 'reality' is a narrative constructed by the individual, influenced by his or her cultural context to explain events. It rarely goes in. Now I find that Terry Pratchett made the same point much more clearly in Moving Pictures:
What was it they said about gods? They wouldn't exist if there weren't people to believe in them? And that applied to everything. Reality was what went on inside people's heads.

Cassette Boy meets Nick Griffin: who will win?

The Downfall subtitlers have been busy too (other satires are available):

Rebranding in action

If you legally protest anything - no criminal damage, insulting language etc. - then you're a 'domestic extremist', according to the police, and you get your own page on a range of super databases. If you care about a lot of things (again, perfectly legally), then you're included in a new police card game: The Domestic Extremist Top Trumps Cards, in which the cops tick you off a list whenever they spot you.

I've always thought of my attendance at these events as tokenistic at best, a means of reminding our masters that they may achieve compliance, but they haven't engineered consent. It's rather flattering to be considered a 'domestic extremist' (which actually sounds like a heavily-armed housekeeper).
Vehicles associated with protesters are being tracked via a nationwide system of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras. One man, who has no criminal record, was stopped more than 25 times in less than three years after a "protest" marker was placed against his car after he attended a small protest against duck and pheasant shooting.
Which is outrageous. That level of stops is usually reserved for black men in the British tradition of policing.


I am promiscuous. I must admit that I am a slut and a user. Every evening, I share my bed with a fresh companion. Sometimes, I am gentle, stroking curves and creases with the utmost tenderness. Sometimes, to my shame, I am rough and unforgiving. Spines crack, marks are left: I am not always considerate. Quite often, having had my pleasure, the object of my desire is cast aside, forgotten until required once more, while I turn over and sleep without a moment's thought. On other occasions, I have used my Other past the point of exhaustion, extracting more and more passion until the morning light brings a moment's remorse - though the exchange is always mutual, and significance is created in the space between us.

I am also faithless and abitrary. Some of the very best, most cultured, most highbrow of these evenings have never been repeated, whereas the most shameful, guilty pleasures have been restaged, over and over again, without discrimination. For some, the experience exhausted me, drained me, so fully that despite the pleasure, I can never dare return to the source: they are left on the shelf. I expect unquestioning patience, fidelity and passivity, yet promise nothing more than the vague hope that one day my eye will be caught and my passion rekindled. Yet, for all my capriciousness, I am never dismissive - every evening, every abrupt moment, every sensual scene, every violent interlude - is stored in my subconscious, subtly changing me.

I admit my guilt. I am a reader.

Should we kneel?

The rather wonderful Follow the Yellow Brick Road is at no. 16 on Creative Tourist's list of 25 Best Arts Blogs - and rightfully so. Er, I mean, she belongs on the list, not rightfully at 16. Higher! Higher!, as Brucie would say. Go there, learn shame.

…then back to the art

After lunch at Gaby's, a wonderful falalel and all things Eastern café (near Leicester Square) on Steve's recommendation, we trooped off to the National Gallery's medieval section - I love the way the pre-Renaissance artists combined odd perspectives, deep blues and golds, religious stories and (mainly) Italian politics and landscape, such as this by the Clarisse Master (1265 or so), this Bellini, Botticini's Assumption of the Virgin featuring several local Italian bigwigs, and this stunning da Messina of St. Jerome in his study (click for larger image), which plays with perspective wonderfully.

After that, we stopped for Holbein's The Ambassadors, one of the best few paintings in the world - every item, every fold, every stroke is multiply significant - and across the bottom is this streak of paint which (if you stand in the right place), resolves itself as a skull, subverting the power and glory of the two men featured with all their riches, achievements and ambitions. You really need to click on it to get the big picture (sorry).

After all that art and excitement - how to unwind? How about Honey and Ginger Ice-cream Sundae and iced mint tea at Fortnum and Mason's? Positively sybaritic.

Sunday was relatively relaxed: I went to watch Manchester United lose, in the Hogshead, with Neal and Emma (a Man U fan), for whom I cooked a scrumptious meal of roasted fennel, celeriac and various other vegetarian objects, while we all read the Sunday newspapers and watched In the Loop, which loses none of its sharpness with multiple viewings. Watching the footy was a particular pleasure, Stoke City having won too…

From art to the streets!

Gloriously, as we left the Kapoor exhibition, the Troops Out of Afghanistan demonstration was passing - probably 5,000-10,000. I felt a wave of nostalgia, having whistled and chanted with the best of them in my time. I love the slogans, the odd posters, the witty banners and even the myriad of splinter groups selling poorly-written posters explaining why their groupuscule is the true inheritor of the legacy of Marx/Lenin/Trotsky/Mao/add your own guru here - despite my utter despair that the left can't get together to actually do anything significant. Instead, we'd all rather pretend to be revolutionaries and attack any other sect rather than the actual enemy. Demonstrations like this are particularly useless: nobody's listening, no minds will be changed, but the marchers feel better about themselves.

The MLKP (Marxist-Leninist Communist Party) are banned as terrorists in Turkey - which doesn't bother me. The fact that they are ardent supporters of Enver Hoxha's evil, paranoid brand of communism really does. Don't confuse them with the CPGB-ML, the British sect which considers the CPGB and the CPB to be not nearly Stalinist enough…

The demo was a classic - despite it being about Afghanistan, every other cause was represented. Every Communist Party and Trotskyist group (none of which would ever dream of holding a free debate or standing for election) was there (hell, every member was there), except for the ones no doubt boycotting it for doctrinal reasons. Photos are here, but I'll put my favourites up.

Nuanced. Sophisticated.

That'll show 'em. Isn't condemnation a little… oppressive?

Well if King's Lynn and satellite villages oppose the war, then it'll have to stop!

I got me some art-learnin'

Hi all. How was your weekend (bank holiday weekend, for the Irish and New Zealanders)? Mine was glorious. Firstly, I did no work at all. In fact, I did the opposite of work, much of it the company of colleagues who were similarly determined to not even think about work.

Friday - to the pub, of course. But Saturday saw me on a train to London to see the Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. I turned up early to see the Wild Thing exhibition - Epstein, Gill and Gaudier-Brzeska, which was fabulous and still shocking in many ways. They reintroduced 'direct carving' (i.e. chisel on block rather than making clay and plaster casts for technicians to reproduce. They revisioned sculpture and heavily influenced each other. If you want to see lots of Epstein, go to Walsall Art Gallery - their collection is based on Epstein's own work plus that collected by he and his wife. Here's a photograph of Epstein's Rock Drill, which was so advanced that it was totally rejected by the critical establishment. He took it apart, did a bronze cast of the head and torso and chucked the rest away - the version in the exhibition is a 1970s reproduction. I've gone on about Eric Gill far too much, so won't dwell on his manichaean genius any further here.

When my comrades turned up, we trooped into the Anish Kapoor exhibition. His interests are in space, form and the body - one room contained pallets of extruded concrete, reminiscent of turds, maggots or intestines. Another contained a long, writing intestinal tube which ended in a shiny red vulval aperture, while Svayambh consists of a 30-ton red wax carriage endlessly moving through 5 galleries, squeezing through each ornate doorway and leaving wax splattered over the walls and edges - it's hard not to think of childbirth. Elsewhere, a cannon fired red wax onto the wall every twenty minutes (no, me neither).

Kapoor plays with perceptions too - the perfect white pregnancy bump (or malignancy bump) on the wall which can only be seen from one oblique angle, the fairground mirrors, the deep receding yellow hollow: spatial perception is warped throughout, as is the nature of art and the role of the gallery. The sculpture outside (The Tree and the Eye) is also interesting - at first it just seems a little flashy, but then I realised that it's doing two things: warping your perception of the severe classically-designed buildings surrounding it, and turning you into the art: to look at it or take pictures of it is to publicly proclaim your narcissism - there's no way to view this art without gazing at yourself, so that every picture is a self-portrait (should it be The Tree and the I?).

Here are a couple from the exhibition and some more of the day here. The bad ones are of Ezra Pound by Gaudier-Brzeska, and Kapoor's Svayambh - rubbish quality because photography isn't technically welcomed, so I used my camera phone. The others are of my fellow cultural refugees.

This  is Gaudier-Brzeska's Ezra Pound, the poet.

Kapoor's Savayambh, pushing through the door.

Kapoor's The Tree and the Eye.

The Wolverhampton University Culture Vultures.

The Wax Cannon.

Friday, 23 October 2009

I realise that this may be of interest to precisely none of my readers

… but my PhD is on Welsh Writing in English, so I'm very pleased to have discovered that CREW (Centre for Research into the English Literature and Language of Wales) has a blog, on which fascinating issues of theory, interpretation and canonisation have been recently discussed. Croeso.

Now I feel old…

It's the internet's 40th birthday (of sorts). I sent my first e-mail in 1994, and probably sent one or two a month for the next couple of years. Here's the bit that makes me feel like a relic:

on New Year's Day 1994 – only yesterday, in other words – there were an estimated 623 websites. In total. On the whole internet. 

My life has been transformed - mostly positively - by the internet. I can find books previously out of reach, read academic papers, wind up Ewar and Cynical Ben, maintain my schedule, communicate with people all over the world. Conversely, a good deal of work is generated electronically. My eyes hurt, and - perhaps more importantly - notions of friendship and community have been radically altered. In some ways, this has been beneficial. I can plot political rebellion and circulate protests in an instant. In other ways, it's deepened the atomisation of western society. From my keyboard, I could theoretically 'be' anyone I want, without sanction. I can easily join groups and just as easily exit them - commitment and stability are waning. At the Blog Awards, I reverted from my virtual identity (Outspoken Suave Oracle of Wisdom) to my actual persona of Socially Inept Fat Bloke. Should I allow SIFB to wither away and concentrate on OSWB, or is there value in just being who you are? Of course, I could be both…

All Hail Emily Howell? Your Friday conundrum.

Download and listen to some of these MP3s. This is your Friday conundrum: are they any good, and does Emily Howell's life and status affect your relationship to the music?

Question Time - how was it for you?

Frankly, I was a little bored. Griffin occasionally let his tightly-controlled facade slip with some very silly comments (indigenous 'British' = those descended from the ice age inhabitants! I'm not sure when the Celts turned up, but the Romans, Saxons, Danes, Normans, Dutch etc. all fit Griffin's preferred racial characteristics and arrived a lot more recently than that) and defended his meetings with David Duke of the KKK with the words 'almost entirely non-violent'.

The other guests were pretty weak. They'd all looked up Griffin's past comments and turned every single question towards the BNP's racial policy - to which Griffin had similarly well-planned responses. If the BNP want to be a serious party, they need to have policies on everything, from water metering to agricultural run-off levels - an opportunity was lost to expose how narrow and limited the BNP is. Because they all went over the same ground repeatedly, it became a sterile debate.

I was a bit annoyed about the Churchill debate though - surely someone could have pointed out that he wouldn't have joined the BNP, Tories OR Labour, because he fully supported a United States of Europe (his words), founded the European Movement and received the Charlemagne Prize for his efforts in that direction.

The only person on the show to come out of it well was the playwright and British Museum director Bonnie Greer, somewhat predictably: she was calm, witty, authoritative and didn't hector. Churchill was half-American and got to be PM: let's get Bonnie Greer into Parliament!

I watched the programme while eating a curry, which seemed appropriate. Then this morning I went to the pool and shared the water with immigrants! To whom I then chatted! What a race traitor I am…

After that, I had the immense satisfaction of shouting 'scab' at some postmen. Griffin and his jackbooted fantasists belong in the lowest circle of hell, but scabs will be sitting close by. I should have stuck a stick through the spokes of the one on a bike. I've very few principles (obviously), but one is to never cross a picket line, and it's served me well.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Thursday conundrum

Will you be watching Question Time this evening (for non-UK people: it's a debate show with politicians, pitching up in a different town each week to answer questions from the audience)? Should the BNP be on, and how should the panel treat Nick Griffin?

I think the BNP should be there. There's no point blaming the BBC for giving airtime to fascists: the population has elected two of these lizards to the European Parliament and many more to local councils. The BBC has a duty to impartially give airtime to all shades of legal opinion. I don't think the BNP should be a legal party, but it is, so the political class should spend less time critiquing the BBC and more time destroying the BNP's arguments. It shouldn't be that hard, as they're dumb arguments. Pulling tricks or finding weaselly ways out of confronting the BNP and persuading its supporters that there are better philosophies is cowardly. Face them, argue with them, demonstrate their errors. Don't treat them like bogey men: bullies like it when you show fear.

Christmas keeps on getting earlier

Despite the postal strike, which I fully support (damn you Mandelson, you sounded almost like a Labour Party minister for a few weeks, but bad will out), I've received a couple of interesting things - a photographic (stressing the graphic) catalogue of Eric Gill's sculptures and engravings (ranging literally from the sacred to the profane, with a fair amount of crossover), the new Kings of Convenience album and Yo La Tengo's Popular Songs. I'll listen to it once I manage to stop playing Nancy Elizabeth's Wrought Iron, which is a more sensual cousin of P J Harvey's bleakly beautiful White Chalk.

I also accidentally bought a couple of books in Manchester yesterday - Amis's Money (for work purposes) and the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, which is fascinating though rather venerable, having been published in 1951.

Dan - a portrait

I'm not normally very impressed with my creative skills, but I took a photograph of Dan yesterday of which I'm really quite proud. It is, of course, down to his chiselled good looks and my sneakiness - long lens, 20 feet away while his consciousness was otherwise engaged - but it cried out for monochrome, and it's really worked well. Click in it for a larger one.

I also took this one on my way home from the station, solely for its slightly mournful attempt to import a bit of 50s LA into backstreet Wolverhampton. Wish I'd had my tripod with me.

Manchester Blog Awards - the main event

We're a snide bunch - well, I am at least. I'm also slightly hearing-impaired, which meant that my bon mots reached perhaps more ears than I intended. Add to that the fact that Bacchus had been particularly kind to us over the course of dinner, and you have the perfect conditions for some quality snarking.

Some features of the evening were all too predictable: barefoot comperes (Arts Council funded, naturally), berets and, well, students.

More photos are here.

A blog awards ceremony faced a simple epistemological problem: how to demonstrate the genius of the nominees? Blogs are, of course, extended chronological musings, differentiated from diaries, creative writing and other forms by technological means - primarily mixed media and linking. At the awards, some nominees were asked to read from their blogs, which in some ways suggested that what the awards were concerned about was simply good writing, rather than the generic characteristics of blogging per se.

Highlights were My Shitty Twenties, who has a witty, relaxed style which masks her ability to draw profundity from apparently quotidian situations, and Follow The Yellow Brick Road, who understood the value of concision as well as of erudition, humour and good writing. The former won two awards (full list here), and Cynical Ben was runner-up to her in the Best Personal Blog category.

It feels very strange describing Ben as 'runner up'. He's never, since I've known him, run up to anything other than a mound of cheese… though he has just bought a bike.

Blog of the year went to the anonymous Lost in Manchester.

Needless to say, I'd managed to dress as a Mark Corrigan impersonator and acted accordingly - too tongue-tied in the presence of greatness to make actual, y'know, conversation with anyone not connected to the Map Twats. Luckily, I had a train to catch…

So now, here I am in a darkened office, while Cynical and the other Map Twats are in Southport, birding and browsing secondhand bookshops, like apprentice Last of the Summer Wine characters.

Manchester Blog Awards - the prelude

Weirdly disconnected from the web for blog-related purposes, Neal and I set out for Manchester with high hopes for Cynical Ben.

My good wishes were somewhat leavened with bitterness after he suggested we meet in Vinyl Exchange, knowing very well that this is like scattering coke around in a Betty Ford clinic. By the time he turned up, I'd hoovered up two Kris Drever LPs and one of Cajun dance tunes. Don't worry, I can give up any time. £250 for a Meic Stevens LP? You must be joking. Rare in England perhaps, but they litter Welsh charity shops!

After a brief interlude while Neal bought trousers (yes, we lead a glamorous life), Ben took us to Oklahoma, a cool little backstreet bohemian coffee bar, then off we went to meet Mrs Cynical. Gradually acquiring more friends: the recently engaged Alison of this parish (romantic post not weakened at all by her revelation that this declaration of love was produced by a shambling drunk at three in the morning, clothed only in his boxers - it's the blogger's way), and Caroline, who invites you all to buy her house in Salford.

We dined, flatulently, in the Armenian Taverna near Manchester Town Hall. If you like flavoursome salads and meat as far as your intestines will stretch, it's definitely the place for you. It certainly pleased me mightily.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Here's one for Gordon

Mervyn King, Wulfrunian and governor of the Bank of England, made a speech last night pointing out that the banks have us over a barrel now. They can, he said, take even stupider risks now, because there's less competition, and they know that the taxpayer will always bail them out.

The solutions, he said, are to break up the bigger banks, so that ones that fail don't wreck the whole economy, and to separate investment banking from retail (bank accounts and mortgages). All sound good sense: the oil monopolies were broken in the early years of the 20th century in the US, and Glass-Steagal, introduced in the post-Depression years, similarly separated banking functions.

Will the government enact these sensible reforms? Don't be an idiot. That would take radical thinking, which in this government is reserved for bashing its natural supporters - trades unions, the poor etc.

The questions I really want to address to my party leaders are these:
You made speeches for 15 years about the need to let the markets do whatever they want. You reduced regulation, turned a blind eye to tax evasion and said you were 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich'. The banks have now crashed. You gave them all our money. They're now making even more money, but they're not lending to us or paying tax. Additionally, you're saying that because you've given all our money to the banks, the people who have already lost their jobs or are struggling, are going to suffer even more. The people who need Meals on Wheels, a decent public library, good state schools, good hospitals. You, and your banker friends don't use these services, and won't notice their decline.

Why is it OK to make us suffer to ensure that banks continue to make massive profits, which they salt away offshore?

Where, seriously, are the Labour values in all of this? Where, for god's sake, is the idea that government is the people's collective will to care for each other? What are you for?

Great Zarquon…

… said Douglas Adams, brushing down his dressing gown and staring wildly around him, slightly disorientated by the spinning motion which had woken him up in his coffin. "Wasn't I dead? Who the hell are you? Where's my tea?"

"I" said a small Irishman, "am Owen Colfer, an android with Sirius Cybernetics Corporation's latest Genuine People Personality technology. I am, therefore, also you. In a manner of speaking."

"Now wait a minute", expostulated the late author. "You can't just dig me up".

"No", said the stranger. "But Infinidim Enterprises can. The Encyclopaedia Galactica, the memoirs of the Eccentrica Gallumbits, the Three-Breasted Whore of Eroticon 6 - all flops I'm afraid, and Christmas-like events are approaching. No, what we needed was a massive pile of galactic credits to spend on Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters. And on new digital watches, of course. The only solution, old chum, was to rip off your dressing gown, pull down your pyjama trousers and violate you in as many unimaginative ways as we possibly could."

"But. But. You just can't dig me up and pretend everything's fine. You're behaving like the Vogons, turning up and blasting everything I stood for into a million little pieces".

"We can, and we have. What you thought was reality was in fact a bourgeois virtual construct, with your primitive ideas of integrity and authorship. We can take your old books, extract the stuff about tea, cricket and Fenchurch, discard the rest and make more trillions of credits than the Frantles from the ninety-eighth dimension made from the Zantle exhibits four billion years ago".*

"But. But. But…"

"No, no, monkey man. We need the money. And let's be honest, this pastiche thing's zarking easy, isn't it Zaphod?

"Yeah, froody", said Zaphod, banging his heads together. "Now let's, y'know, find some excitement, adventure and really wild things. Again. Coming, earthman?".

"Great", said Douglas Adams, as a few fingerjoints detached themselves from his rotting corpse. "All I ever wanted from life was a decent cup of tea. Even Marvin would find this particularly depressing".

The Zantles, as everybody in the galaxy knows, were the cunningest pan-dimensional beings of their zallifrarg. To explain this to a carbon-based lifeform such as yourself would be so difficult that even the Guide, by now a pan-pan-dimensional positronic lifeform, would melt its biocorcuits even trying to think down to your level.  

The dew has fallen with a particularly sickening thud this morning

Morning! Not much blogging from me today! Ironically, it's because I'm going to support Cynical Ben and others at the Manchester Blog Awards. I'm too obsolete to have wireless internet on an iPhone, Blackberry or via a dongle (my Mac is 7 years old), so I'll just have to take pictures and notes to post tomorrow.

So I'm spending the morning doing the work that the university considers important: admin. All that boring old thinking, writing and reading has been put aside in favour of Excel…

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Support the CWU

There's a postal strike coming. Support it - the postmen and women are being painted as lazy, reactionary troublemakers rather than hardworking people who aren't opposed to 'modernisation' - they're opposed to reduced services with inadequate staffing.

Personally, it means going cold turkey. No books in the post. Worse than that, the university post is suspended while new pigeonholes are constructed (they look too small for more than a single paperback - more dumbing down). I had to scavenge in the school office to get my fix today: two Angela Carter novels (Love and Several Perceptions) from the 1960s and (finally) Colfer's Hitchhiker's Guide novel, And Another Thing… Wonder if I'll hate it as much as Cynical Ben (here and here).

Is sacking educators during a recession a good idea?

Round here, apparently it is. According to others, such as the V-C of University of Central Lancashire, definitely not:

"It would be beyond reason for an incoming government to significantly reduce public expenditure on higher education in the middle of a recession. It would be like a general demobilising regiments of battle-hardened troops in the face of an enemy. There is, of course, a danger that a few politically inept vice-chancellors will offer up their troops in voluntary sacrifice in advance of any battle. However, on the assumption that these suicidal tendencies can be controlled by the rest of the sector, let us address the elephant in the room."

Full article here.

This Place = Trafigura?

Both are attempting to hide things from their publics. Trafigura wanted to silence the papers about dumping toxic waste, then silence the papers from reporting that members of parliament were concerned about their use of the courts to silence comments (super-injunctions stop papers even telling you that they've been injuncted, so the story doesn't exist).

This Institution has allegedly, apparently, according to student bloggers, banned the students' union newspaper from discussing the sackings and restructuring - as though they won't see the local papers, TV coverage etc. So much for 'student-centred' learning, and valuing students' opinions. Great PR too: 'shut up or we'll do you' doesn't do the institution's reputation much good, especially when they go around proclaiming how important students' voices are…

Free David Osler

This poor man, an interesting lefty blogger, is being sued (see the October 9th post).

His crime? He listed the political parties and legal history of a Tory candidate. She doesn't claim inaccuracy, but feels that him listing the 4 parties she belonged to in 1 year breaches her human right to freedom of assembly. She's also suing him because a commenter on the piece described her as 'one cherry short of a Schwarzwalderkirschtorte', which is a) mild and b) slightly amusing. He's spending a lot of his time in court at the moment, and will soon be bankrupted. Because this is a freedom of speech matter, lots of unpleasant rightwing bloggers are supporting him. Well done, chaps (they are all chaps).

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Frank Turner

Halfway through last night's gig, I realised that I'd seen Frank Turner before, in a tiny, empty bar. It took me a while because then, it was a bloke with an acoustic guitar singing witty songs about urban alienation. Last night, a man with a muscular band, great banter and self-deprecating wit sang similar songs but loudly, in front of an utterly packed, much bigger room.

It was like being inducted into a cult (thanks Emma). The crowd was mixed, though tending towards check-shirted, young couples (which obviously brought out the single misanthrope in me. They all knew every word and bayed with approval throughout.

If you don't know Turner's stuff, it veers between Springsteen, The Dubliners and Half Man Half Biscuit - folk hidden under rock and lyrics tending towards wry analysis of social ills and tales of our atomised individualism. I had to disagree with his analysis of the 1381 Peasant's Revolt (he said they should be examples to us all because they wanted less goverment - I think we need more government, especially when it comes to financial regulation, healthcare, public services etc - and he missed out Wat Tyler's bloody end, betrayed by the aristocracy he thought would negotiate with him fairly), but loved his use of the word 'crass' in a pop song. It's not preachy, he's catchy and very good at banter.

Support bloke Beans on Toast was fairly amusing too, though strip out the swearing and you've got nursery-rhyme morality tales in a cockney accent.

Springtime for Hitler…

Another BNP membership list has been leaked, so you can check out your friends and neighbours. Amusingly, the BNP is trying to look bigger than its current 35,000 by adding 100,000 to all new membership numbers!

Their leader, Nick Griffin, is on Question Time this week, leading to much soul-searching about whether he should be on there and how to deal with him. I take an unfashionable line for the left on this: he's an elected MEP and there are a lot of fascists out there who've voted for a legal party. For government figures such as Peter Hain to threaten the BBC with legal action is shameful because it's an abdication of political responsibility. If the BNP are that dangerous (and I think they are), the party should be banned. If they're legal, the BBC has a duty to feature their elected representatives proportionately.

Further to that, exposure can only damage them. They aren't very bright, though they are getting the hang of dog-whistle politics. I hope the other guests pursue them by means of boring, important politics. I suspect that Griffin has no idea about the PSBR, or quantitative easing, or waste directives etc. etc. etc. He can't blame Islamists for obscure financial decisions, so let's show him up as a one-issue demagogue.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Daily Mail - a correction

This wise individual points out that the furore over the Jan Moir/Gately article is ridiculous: the Mail is evil every single day.

Welcome to the book cave

It's a cultured week. Despite having an enormous amount of dispiriting work to do, I'm seeing Frank Turner tonight (meant to be very good), going to the Manchester Blog Awards to see if Cynical Ben and various other friends win, then to the Anish Kapoor exhibition in London, which will no doubt make me very, very angry - not at the artwork (probably) but at the general air of foppish superiority which pervades such events.

My new flat is gradually getting more organised - I even hosted post-histrionics drinks there on Friday night. Some new pictures here.

The rhino is part of a set dressing - apart from some heavily annotated books, it's all I have from my dead English teacher, Mike Caswell - a very great man.

Laura gave me Marvin - now I've finally found a place he'd like.

Enter the book cavern

My 1971 Soviet poster commemorating a decade since Gagarin's flight (and my degree certificates)

Cynical Ben and his Map Twat groomsmen

One of a pair of Michael Portillo Roman Salute bookends, courtesy of Neal

My paltry achievements. The figurine isn't an Oscar. It reads 'Least Worst Best Man', and is from Cynical Ben.

More pictures of not-Wolverhampton

This is the Shakespeare Chimney! Dan and I lived here. It's the remaining chunk of the Archbishop's Palace, in which the Bishop of Bangor and Owain Gyndwr plot, in Henry IV part I.

Just for Dan

Racism never dies. It just moves to the seaside.

Tranquil, huh?

It's not Norman. It's a Victorian pastiche built by the local aristos off the backs of the slate miners. Very unpleasant family. Some of the national art treasures were stored there in WW2 until it was discovered that they were being abused.

I'm rather pleased with this one.

Bangor Cathedral with the University in the background

Fishermen's cottages by the Menai Straits, by the Pier

Bangor. It's no Wolverhampton.

Bangor, like all proper Welsh towns, is a mix of the jaw-droppingly beautiful and the prosaic, not to say seedy. Wolverhampton isn't a mix. Surrounded by sea and mountains, I managed to spend almost none of my time there up one or in the other, which was a terrible waste. Instead, I wrote the union paper, sat in meetings, drank beer and even read the occasional book. What a way to spend my youth.

Now, whenever I go back, the heart lifts on the way, and sinks back again on my return to the Black Country. Here are a few shots of what you've missed (and a lot more here, including the Super Furries gig). Click on the pictures for larger images.

Penrhyn Castle

Penrhyn Castle 2

North Wales coast and mountains from Bangor Pier

Ms. Aimée Lloyd

SFA - a few more pictures

So. Were the Super Furry Animals actually any good?

I've seen them 12-15 times over the past fifteen years. You never know whether you'll get the Rock Super Furry Animals, the Hippy Super Furry Animals, the Nosebleed Techno Super Furry Animals or something else.

This time, we got a cool, relaxed, friendly amalgam of all three. Most shockingly, we got the Beardy, Blues, Fleet Foxes version - under the synths and lasers were blues riffs and gentle harmonies. All conversation from the band was in Welsh, and Gruff waved a succession of increasingly cryptic posters. He also is apparently still as desirable as he was in 1994, according to my comrades Aimee and Vicky. The first half showcased their pastoral, mountain-man side, and the second amped up the volume and the tempo considerably: their subversive hit 'The Man Don't Give A Fuck' got the crowd surfers up and the room, friendly enough already, became euphoric.

Euphoric, that is, except for the guy in front of me, who was engaged in text warfare with his ex-partner, who seemed to believe that he wasn't taking the welfare of their daughter seriously. Perhaps she was right - his final text was 'Whatever. Can't text left-handed. Beer in my right hand'.

The support act was Cate Le Bon - we saw only a few minutes, but enough to convince me that she's worth checking out.

It was one of the best gigs I've ever been to. The crowd was cool, amiable and remarkably diverse (in age - almost everybody was a Welsh-speaker, and Bangor seems to have become much more Cymru Cymraeg since I was a student there). The band were clearly relaxed and happy, determined to make sure everyone had a good time, and they weren't at all self-indulgent, as a band coming home might have been. A triumph.